A Liebster Award!

The Liebster Award

Reading 1900-1950 has been given a Liebster Award! Apparently the word comes from the German, meaning “dearest” or “beloved” and is given by fellow bloggers to new blogs with fewer than 200 followers and deserving of recognition and encouragement. Thank you Kaggsys Bookish Ramblings, for this lovely piece of encouragement – it is much appreciated. Reading 1900-1950 is a communal effort, so this award is for all the members of the reading group (and those reading remotely with us) who have contributed book reviews – well done to you all!

The rule is you answer the questions put to you by the person who nominated you, then make up your own set of questions which you send on to those you, in turn, have chosen to nominate. A great way to find out more about your fellow bloggers! Here are my answers to Kaggsy’s questions:

1. Do you think that eBooks and mechanical devices are killing tree books?

No, I don’t think so. I’ve just a quick google to try and find some figures on physical book sales vs eBooks and didn’t find anything useful – I’d be very interested in anyone has any figures on this? My entirely unsubstantiated by evidence feeling is that the paper book is alive and well. Perhaps it is the circles I move in – I tend to know people who value the book as an object. Working on the Special Collection at the university has made me think more about the physical book – I love to see inscriptions, old library stamps, annotations in the margins that tell me something about the way the book has been read and the journey it has been on before it got to me. I’m also fascinated by book cover design, what the blurbs choose to tell you, and the marketing for other books frequently found on the end pages. They often lead me on a trail to the next book…

eBooks do lack all that context, and perhaps means that the text is read in a different way. Without all the pointers from cover and marketing, do people read with fewer preconceptions?

But I’m getting off topic! I think eBooks and all the devices that you can now read them on means that people are reading more, which can only be a good thing. The market for physical books will probably become smaller, but I think it will always be there, particularly for publishers who can make books desirable objects. Persephone Books are a good example of a publisher who takes the paper book very seriously – they always add value to the text by making the books beautiful objects that people want to have in their homes.

I don’t have a Kindle – I’ve only just got a smart phone – but I can see how handy they are. My bag on the way to work is often VERY heavy.

2. Bestsellers – a good thing or a bad thing?

Hmm, how do you mean? It is certainly interesting what becoming a bestseller does to a book’s reputation! It seems almost impossible for a book to be considered good literature once it has achieved mass success. There is still an attitude that it can’t be that good, or that special, if everybody likes it.

Bestsellers like Fifty Shades of Grey can be a bit annoying because it takes on a self-perpetuating life of its own – bought not because of the merits of the book, but because people want to know what all the fuss is about, leaving less space for those books that you might think are more worthy of attention. But I do think that the novels that achieve best-sellerdom do tell us something interesting about the society of the time and their tastes.

I will leave you to draw your own conclusions on what the success of Fifty Shades of Grey says about Britain in 2012.

Reading books from the first half of the twentieth century in the collection is very salutary on the fleeting nature of fame. It is full of books no one has heard of now that were bestsellers in their day!

3. Do you have a favourite lost classic or a book you would recommend to everyone?

I would like to recommend Vera, by Elizabeth von Arnim. Von Arnim is often best known now for her first book Elizabeth and her German Garden (1898) and The Enchanted April (1922), but I think her best is definitely Vera (1921).

It is the story of Lucy, a young innocent woman, who marries a rather older man, Wemyss. Wemyss has been recently widowed; according to him, his first wife Vera fell from the first-floor sitting-room window on the flag stones beneath. However, from the beginning the reader is given the unpleasant suspicion that Vera may have thrown herself out of the window, and that Wemyss may have had something to do with it.

It is a fantastic novel, with a creeping, fairy-tale sense of fear that builds as we wonder how long Lucy will survive with the monstrous Wemyss. But von Arnim’s master stroke is that she makes this terrifying story funny.

This is Lucy’s Aunt Dot on the courtship:

 She couldn’t bear the thought of being cramped up so near Mr Wemyss’s – no, Everard’s; she had better get used to that at once – love-making. His way of courting wouldn’t be, – she searched about in her uneasy mind for a word, and found vegetarian.

Rebecca West wrote a very perceptive review:

The author has produced a remarkable novel because she has had the courage to override a tiresome literary convention. She has insisted that there is no real reason why a book should not be just as tragic as it is comic. By the unsentimental justice of its values, by its refusal to make Wemyss less of a comedian because he is murderous or less of a murderer because he is comic, Vera achieves a peculiar, poignant effect. It is without any question the most successful attempt at the macabre in English.

If that isn’t recommendation enough, Vera was also described as ‘Wuthering Heights written by Jane Austen’. What more could you ask for?

4. New or secondhand – does it matter?

I rarely buy new books, as I am usually buying something out of print, or if in print, I am looking for the cheapest! (Oh dear, such a cheapskate. I had so little money for so long that I think this habit will be hard to break.) A new book is a treat, for Christmas or birthdays – there is a special pleasure to being the first to crease the spine. But in general my first stop is the library – there is simply no more space in my house. (As the removal man quipped as he carried seemingly endless boxes of books into my house, ‘haven’t you heard of a kindle love?’. Er, yes. But I haven’t got one (see above).

5. Are you the kind of reader who will struggle through a book to the end no matter what?

No. I stop. There are always so many books I want to read that I can’t bear to waste time! Having said that, I have soldiered through books for the reading group that I wouldn’t have finished otherwise. (And I recently finished Guard Your Daughters, despite finding it utterly put-downable, because everyone else liked it so much! I am one of the few people who didn’t like it. Sorry!)

6. Can you describe your ideal bookshop?

Mmm… there must be chairs, definitely, as I may be there some time. A mixture of new and second hand books is best for me, and knowledgeable but unobtrusive staff. However, to be honest I spend much more time in libraries than bookshops.

7. And for fun: have you ever had a crush on a book character?

I have thought long and hard about this, and the answer seems to be no! My embarrassing fictional crush is on Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer… tell no one.

Now, I am supposed now to nominate other new blogs that I think deserve recognition and encouragement – and I find that all the blogs I am reading are either well-established, or have already taken part in Liebster! Oh dear. So I clearly need to widen my blog reading. Please can you give me some recommendations?

7 thoughts on “A Liebster Award!

  1. Congratulations! A very well deserved award. Your blog has given me many pointers for my own reading and all done in open and easy style. Congratulations also to all your contributors!

  2. I think you and your colleagues deserve this, Erica, if for no other reason than you have already pointed me at some great books!

    Re bestsellers – what I was getting at was what you picked up on, the fact that a book is being read not because of any merit but because it’s picked up as trendy or the book to read. I rather deplore the fact that Anna Karenina ended up as an Oprah book because the people reading it probably wouldn’t have touched it unless she had made it fashionable. As for 50 Shades – yuk!

    I have Vera in my TBR so now I want to read it!

    As for blogs – I struggled a bit too because most of the blogs I read seem well established – I don’t know how long Colin has been about but maybe nominate him? http://literarytaste.wordpress.com/

  3. I did think of nominating Colin’s Literary Taste, but thought that I couldn’t really as it has been going a year. But a year is a snip in the world of blogs! So here is a Liebster for Literary Taste, which deserves recognition for being so splendidly idiosyncratic, for the use of graphs, all the contextual reading, and for giving Arnold Bennett’s book Literary Taste the attention it deserves.

    My favourite post so far of Colin’s is http://literarytaste.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/arnold-bennett-of-the-people-for-the-people-but-not-necessarily-known-by-the-people/
    I knew Bennett was culturally important, but knowledge of his writing a key indicator of whether the working man was equipped for responsible and thoughtful participation in political affairs? Amazing and fascinating.

    My questions for Colin:
    1. Do you ever read contemporary fiction? If so, what contemporary authors do you enjoy?
    2. What would you say is the particular appeal of reading novels from the first half of the twentieth century?
    3. What’s the last book you did not finish, and why?
    4. What do you think of literary prizes?
    5. Do you have a favourite lost classic or a book you would recommend to everyone?
    6. If you could live in a novel, which one would it be, and why?
    7. Do you have a favourite place for reading?

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